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Down Memory Lane: Master of the Fourth (Part III)


Double centurion

By Gaurang
December 8 2004

The latest piece in the Down Memory Lane series takes a look back in time at the Madras Miracle of 1986, and one of the most thrilling test matches of all time - the historic tied test in Madras, with some heroic performances by double centurion Dean Jones and the Little Master, Sunil Gavaskar.

Prologue

Australia v. India is currently the marquee match up in Test cricket. However this was not always the case and a combination of the rarity of Australian tours to India and Kerry Packer meant that the three biggest names in Australian cricket during the 1970s, Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee, and Rodney Marsh, never played a Test in India.

Whether Greg would have emulated brother Ian’s proficiency in combating the spin quartet at its peak, whether Lillee would have been any more successful in India than he was in Pakistan where his three wickets in three matches cost over 100 runs each, or whether Marsh would have been as good standing close to the wicket on uneven tracks, as he was standing back on Australian pitches, shall always remain in the realm of “what if”.

However, 1986 was a turning point, and after this tour Australia started touring India a lot more frequently, eliminating the “what if” factor, ensuring the best players on both sides played each other at home and away in an increasingly vital rivalry. This rivalry has made the Border-Gavaskar Trophy the biggest prize in Test cricket and the two cricketers whose names adorn that trophy were appropriately key participants in the Madras Miracle, that was the seed whose germination has seen this rivalry flourish.

The Match

It was fitting that Madras was the setting for this historic match. After all Madras it was where India won its first ever Test match, against the visiting Englishmen, under Vijay Hazare. The Madras pitch has always provided something for both batsmen and bowlers making for absorbing and entertaining cricket. However in 1986, because India and Pakistan were scheduled to jointly host the World Cup, Australia’s tour to India was pushed up so that not a single domestic match had yet been played that season at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium when India took on the Australians.

The curator, out of an abundance of caution, or due to circumstances beyond his control, produced a very un-Madras like pitch. It was flat and slow, with very little bounce or turn. Winning the toss on such a pitch would be crucial. Border’s elation at winning the toss was obvious in his brisk walk back to the pavilion as he told Kapil Dev, the Indian skipper that Australia would be batting first.

Geoff Marsh and David Boon were the Australian openers, while Kapil Dev opened the bowling along with his young Haryana teammate Chetan Sharma, who showed that even in hot and humid conditions on a lifeless pitch he still had enough giddyup to hustle the openers. But the Australians soon settled in a groove and only the introduction of spin, first Manninder Singh’s slow left armers, then Shivlal Yadav’s off spin, introduced some doubt in the batting again. In fact Yadav held one back a bit, and Marsh, quickly into a pull shot, managed to top edge it to Kapil at mid on for an easy catch.

Now Dean Jones joined David Boon at the crease and they proceeded to grind the Indian bowling on a lifeless pitch. Boon the more aggressive of the two, played from the crease, defending good length balls but viciously square cutting and pulling anything short, while Dean Jones used excellent foot work to get to the pitch of the ball and smother any spin. If a ball was overpitched, Jones drove it straight either side of the bowler handsomely. But mostly the two batsmen defended as Australia plodded to 200 for 1 in the 76th over and shortly afterwards Boon reached his century. Then with three overs left in the days play, Kapil took the new ball, for one last burst to try and break the partnership and Sharma immediately responded by getting Boon caught at second slip by Kapil himself for 122. Chetan finally got just rewards for some spirited bowling on an extremely hot and humid day. Ray Bright the night watchman and Jones remained unbeaten at stumps.

The next morning Bright, of similar rotund build as Boon, and wearing a similar Panama hat, did more than a fair impression of the stocky Tasmanian by taking the long handle to the Indian attack. He scored a quick fire 30 with three fours and a huge six off Maninder before Yadav fooled him into holing out to Shastri. Allan Border joined Jones with the score at 282-3 and the two, the master and the pupil, were involved in a massive partnership that has gone down in Australian cricket lore as a feat of endurance comparable to the trek of Burke and Wills to traverse the breadth of Australia in the 1860s, though thankfully with a happier ending.

During his marathon innings Jones more than once vomited on the ground, but kept going after ingesting fluids and downing salt tablets. His courage and “bloody mindedness” in the face of adversity was amazing, as was his ability to use his feet even while suffering cramps, which often made him hobble while crossing over for a run.

When he was finally bowled by Yadav, going for a tired hoik, every Indian player joined the entire stadium in giving him a standing ovation back to the pavilion from where he was immediately rushed off to the hospital and put on a saline drip. Boon’s 122, Jones’ mammoth 210 and Border’s typically gritty 106, plus some late innings hitting by Greg Matthews allowed Australia to declare early on the third day at 574 for 7.

Now it was India’s turn to feast on this batting banquet table of a pitch. And Australia’s pace bowlers, the powerfully built Craig McDermott and the tall bean pole left arm seamer, Bruce Reid, were even less effective than Kapil and Chetan Sharma, against a rampaging Krishnamachari Srikkanth playing on his home ground. Srikkanth cut loose against the quicks and when Reid tried to bounce him Srikkanth disdainfully pulled him to the ropes for four past fine leg. Border immediately put another man on the leg side, at square leg for the next ball, and Reid again fired it in short. Srikkanth once again pulled it magnificently this time splitting the fine leg and square leg fielder for another four. At this point he had scored 32 to Gavaskar’s 2, including seven boundaries out of a team score of 36 for no loss.

To stop the flow of runs Border introduced spin from both ends in the form of Greg Matthews and Ray Bright. After temporarily slowing down, Srikkanth again cut loose, this time against the spinners. He square cut Matthews for a four, and then straight drove him for another. Matthews, at his wits end, tried pitching it out side leg stump and Srikkanth swung him into the stands for a six, racing to 51 out of a score of 62.

Gavaskar who had played sedately for 8 now tried to launch Matthews for a boundary, but Greg, had held the ball back a bit, and Sunny could only give him a simple return catch which he gleefully accepted. Lunch on the third day saw India at 65-1 with Srikkanth and the phlegmatic Mohinder Amarnath at the crease.

Disaster struck immediately after lunch as Mohinder was run out and then Srikkanth himself was dismissed. The score suddenly read 65-3 with two new batsmen, Mohammad Azharruddin and Ravi Shastri, at the crease. The two youngsters batted sensibly putting together a very good partnership of 77 runs of which Azhar scored 50 off 64 balls, including 8 delectable hits to the fence, before he was fooled into a caught and bowled by Bright.

Shastri and Chandrakant Pandit who was playing purely as a batsman, as Kiran More was also in the team, took the score to 206 before Shastri fell to Matthews caught behind. Pandit fell at 220 and at 245, Kiran More, the wicket keeper, was also dismissed. At the end of the third day, India through some careless batting, with none of the batsman showing any inclination to dig in and play a big innings like Jones, were 105 runs away from avoiding the follow-on, with only 3 wickets left. Chetan Sharma and the skipper, Kapil Dev, were the not out batsmen.

The next morning with only his courage and the tailenders to support him, Kapil produced what some think is his finest Test match century. He played a dazzling array of strokes, but at the same time did not give a chance. He avoided hitting the ball in the air, and concentrated on hitting boundaries along the ground. Twenty one fours sizzled to the fence off his bat, but not a single sixer crossed the ropes, in his 119 which uncharacteristically provided the bowlers absolutely no hope till he finally holed out to end the innings at 397.

Despite a very handy lead, Australia made no effort to set India a target. They seemed to be resigned to playing out for a draw, after Kapil had thwarted their plans for imposing the follow on. By the end of the fourth day Australia dawdled to 170 for 5 off 49 overs at 3.47 runs per over, compared to the 4.21 runs per over that India managed in its first innings even under pressure chasing 574 and trying to avoid the follow on.

With his negative display on the fourth day, Border’s declaration on the fifth morning came as a shock to most observers. But most experts also believed that the declaration was a finely balanced one that offered India a real chance to chase 348 for victory in 87 overs at exactly 4 runs per over, while allowing Australia a full day to bowl India out on a fifth day pitch.

Would India and Kapil respond to Border’s challenge? Kapil in an interview after the game revealed that his response to this sporting declaration by Border, was not set at the start of India’s reply. He was interested in going for the win, but he also wanted to see how the wicket played and how the top order fared. Srikkanth, never one to be bothered by the match situation, got India off to rollicking start once again. He smashed 39 off 49 balls with six boundaries before holing out to Matthews. India were 55-1 off 17 overs and well on their way.

Now Amarnath joined Gavaskar in a crucial stand. The two stalwarts played with immense skill and intelligence. They slowly built the score to 158 before Amarnath became Matthews seventh victim of the match, caught by Boon. Azharuddin came to the wicket and looked out of touch probably due to the pressure of the situation. Gavaskar, who till that point had been at his classical best, unhurried, unruffled and totally in command with deft placement and quick nudges for singles to rotate the strike, now decided to take it upon himself to increase the tempo, and started playing some delightful drives either side of the wicket, as well trademark square cuts when the ball was dropped short. However in trying to increase the scoring rate he perished caught in the deep by Jones off Bright for a masterly 90, which included 12 fours and a six. With the score now 204-3 Kapil made a shrewd move and promoted Pandit to come in instead of Ravi Shastri. Shastri who could defend and attack equally well, was kept for later in the order.

Meanwhile Azhar finally got into his groove and the typically wristy flicks on the leg side, and glides through vacant gully region began to flow and India continued to accelerate. Pandit and Azharuddin took the score 251 when Azharuddin fell, going for another six, for a valuable 42. Kapil was the next man in and this time he was not able to repeat the heroics of the first innings. He was caught for 1 by Bright, at backward square leg as the tried to pull a short ball from Matthews, minutes after coming to the crease. India were now 253-5 and it seemed the Indians would pull down the shutters, as all the main batsmen except Shastri were out.

However the two Mumbai youngsters Shastri and Pandit, played sensible cricket. They minimized the risky shots and kept rotating the strike. The score crept towards 300 when Pandit was bowled by Matthews trying to work a ball on the stumps into the gap between slip and wide gully. Shastri’s reaction at the other end, showed how vital a wicket this was. Now India were clearly on the back foot.

At this juncture Chetan Sharma played a typically defiant and gutsy innings. The young Haryana pacer hung around and gave Shastri solid support though also enjoying some luck as a slash went through the hands of slip. Then with the score well past 300 suddenly Shastri re-ignited the run chase as he launched two towering sixers into the crowd at long on and mid wicket. India were nearly home, only 17 more needed in 22 balls with 4 wickets in hand. At this point Chetan Sharma, trying to make the equation a complete formality, ended up holing out to McDermott off Bright.

Next man in was Kiran More and he was declared LBW off the first ball he faced by the umpire. He later claimed that he had got a bit of bat on the ball, and in any case it was certainly not plumb as it hit him on his front pad as he tried sweeping. It was a decision where he certainly could have been given the benefit of the doubt. However More was on his way back to the pavilion for a golden duck.

Yadav now joined Shastri, who was seen instructing him to just take a quick single to give him the strike. However with the score reading 336 at the start of the penultimate over, Yadav decided it was time for other methods. Facing Bright he launched into a ferocious swing, connected, and the ball sailed high and handsome for a six over mid on. Shastri was seen going across to Shiv and admonishing him.

Yadav seemingly chastened then turned the next ball on the leg side for two. India now need 4 runs to win off 10 balls. A single or a two would have been the safest option, but Yadav trying to be the hero tried to finish off the match with one shot and ended up bowled by Bright, missing the line of the ball completely.

Maninder a real number eleven, whose career batting average of little over 3 runs per innings is less than legendary bunny Chandrasekhar’s was the last man in. Shastri was so concerned that he walked up to the edge of the ground and then walked and talked Maninder all the way back to the wicket, trying to ensure that the youngster did not do anything rash. Maninder managed to survive the remaining three balls of Bright’s over to the huge relief of the restive crowd.

Now it was all up to Shastri, who would be facing Greg Matthews for the last over of the match. Matthews had truly bowled his heart out in the match, scalping 9 Indian wickets in 68 overs in the match to that point. Former India batsman, M.L. Jaisimha, in the TV commentary box, said “India have the right man at the crease at the moment. Actually if you had your choice of anyone from the entire team, you’d probably pick Shastri because he is always so cool, calm and collected.” The equation at the start of the final over was: 6 balls to go, 4 runs to win, 1 wicket in hand.

Now switiching to LIVE MODE:

The first ball from Matthews is on the spot and Shastri calmly defends it. The next ball is a fraction short and Shastri pulls it around, and a desperate Steve Waugh puts in the sprint of his life as he stops it before it crosses the ropes and the batsmen take two. Border takes his time arranging the field, while Shastri cooly leans on his bat handle. His shirt is drenched in sweat, but the visage is calm and intent. Matthews bowls the third ball and Shastri hits it into the off side field, which is deep. There is an easy single to be had, and Shastri calls Maninder for it to level the scores.

Several critics later questioned Shastri’s decision to take that fateful single. Couldn’t he have waited for the next ball and tried to get the winning runs himself? they asked. But Shastri’s decision, probably reflects the typical hard-nosed Mumbai cricket culture that he is a product of. With the single he took, he denied Australia a win. Only two results were now possible, an Indian victory or a tie. Always make sure you don’t lose, before thinking about winning, that is the Mumbai way.

Meanwhile Maninder has 3 balls to either survive or somehow scamper across for the win. How that run comes: off the bat, leg byes, byes, no ball etc. is immaterial. Border arranges the field again, letting Maninder feel the pressure. Finally Matthews is ready to bowl the 4th ball of his over. It is on the spot, and all Maninder can do is defend it back. Border now once again has a long discussion with his bowler and senior players, taking an inordinately long time, as the shadows lengthen across the pitch, and the pressure on Maninder builds up. Shastri says something to Maninder who nods. Then Matthews is ready to bowl his 5th ball. The noise in the stadium is deafening. Matthews bowls one straight and Maninder is hit on the pad pushing forward. Umpire Vikram Raju’s finger shoots up almost immediately. It would take a brave man to be certain that there was no edge onto the pads as Maninder played foward, especially considering the pandemonium around the ground. Yet the umpire has no doubts. Maybe in a way he knew the match would be remembered even longer as a tie, than if somehow Maninder got the one run for a win off the last ball.

In any case, Umpires Vikram Raju and Dara Dotiwalla showed both through this decision and the earlier ones where Raju gave More out LBW, that though as humanly fallible as any others, Indian umpires could never be accused of bias.

Thus Australia snatched a Tie from what in the end should have been a defeat for them, though the fact that they set up the match with two declarations showed great sportsmanship, especially since this was the first Test of the series and a loss could have seen them one down in a short series. India too would have been happy with the result, though they would have rued their chance at achieving a famous win. As Kapil said after the match “A tie is good, but a win is great also.” Maybe in the context of the game as a whole, though, the result was the correct one, as neither side deserved to lose.

The Little Master in Action

Epilogue

The performances of Sunil Gavaskar who was playing in his 100th consecutive Test match and Allan Border who was already a grizzled veteran were outstanding. Gavaskar was his side’s senior pro and key batsman, who at age 36, not only led the run chase, but was agile enough to chase around the boundary and judge a beauty of a catch to dismiss Border, who in turn as captain and batsman was truly inspirational. Tempers undoubtedly flared in the middle, especially on the last pulse pounding afternoon, but overall the game was played within the best traditions of the game: fought hard but fair. It is therefore easy to understand why the Trophy that is awarded to the winner of India-Australia contests is called the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in honor of two legends of the game whose names will forever inspire future generations.
One person who must have been inspired was a callow rookie by the name of Stephen Rodger Waugh. The youngster did alright, though nothing spectacular, scoring 12 not out in the first innings and 2 not out in the second, batting below off spinning all-rounder Greg Matthews in both innings, while taking 1 for 44 off 11 overs in the first innings 0 for 16 off 4 overs of military medium pace in the second. In fact the highlight of his performance in the game was his catch to dismiss Srikkanth in the second innings. Srikkanth had hit Matthews high and handsome and Waugh covering a lot of ground, slid and took a very good catch to dismiss the danger man from Australia’s perspective.
Thus one of cricket's future giants found sustenance to grow early in the steamy cauldron that was the Madras Tied Test. Waugh of course went on to add many chapters to the rivalry signified by the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, and having been present at its genesis back in 1986 he certainly would have had a deep personal understanding and appreciation of what that rivalry represents.

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